The blame game

By Emily Heil

Originally published on Advocate.com December 19 2005 12:00 AM ET

New Orleans
officials, the federal government, and even residents who
did not evacuate in time were blamed for the horrific
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when it pummeled the
Gulf Coast in August. The Christian right, however,
picked a different target. In a nod to tradition, they
blamed us. Gay men and lesbians, they said, were the
culprits, and so were their henchmen—those who
refused to condemn New Orleans’s hedonistic culture.
Michael Marcavage, the director of Christian group Repent
America, told his members it was no coincidence that
the storm struck New Orleans just days before Southern
Decadence, the city’s annual gay pride celebration.

“We take
no joy in the death of innocent people,”
Marcavage—a former Clinton White House
intern—told one reporter. “But we believe that
God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon
Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day
that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating
sin in the streets. We’re calling it an act of
God.”

Marcavage is
hardly charting new territory. Christians have long blamed
gays for natural and man-made disasters. Ever since an Old
Testament God destroyed the Sodomites for their
depraved ways, gays have taken the blame for the
scourge du jour—most notably, the AIDS epidemic and
the terrorist attacks of September 11.

In 1998,
televangelist and erstwhile politician Pat Robertson warned
the city of Orlando, Fla., that a gay celebration the
city hosted would bring the wrath of God—in the
form of a hurricane or other disaster—upon the
entire city. Celebrating homosexuality “will bring
about terrorist bombs, it’ll bring earthquakes,
tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,” he predicted.

In 2001, Jerry
Falwell blamed gays and lesbians (along with other such
“sinners” as feminists,
“abortionists,” and the American Civil
Liberties Union) for the terrorist attacks in New York
City. “I point the finger in their face and
say, ‘You helped this happen,’ ” he
said on Robertson’s television show, The 700
Club.
Falwell later attempted to clarify his
remarks, but he never withdrew them or apologized for making
them.

Marcavage
explained that many Christians reject the idea that there
are “natural” disasters. Since the hand
of God is behind the weather and the actions of men,
he claims, those who suffer their destructive power
should assume that they deserved the Almighty’s
wrath.

James Hunter, a
sociology and religious studies professor at the
University of Virginia and the author of books on
evangelical Christians and the culture wars, says
ideas of “causality” are nothing new. Abraham
Lincoln thought the Civil War was God’s punishment
for the sin of slavery, he notes.

But Hunter adds
that such extreme views are increasingly outdated, even
within the evangelical wing of the Christian faith. While
evangelicals aren’t known for their
gay-friendly attitudes, he says, “even among
evangelicals, this is a little fringe.”

Within groups
like Repent America, Hunter says, such condemnations serve
a purpose. “All kinds of groups use fear to mobilize,
to create solidarity in their ranks, to gain financial
support—that’s the name of the
game.”

But operating
under the theory that sin equals storms, how does one
explain the sprawling damage to a chunk of the country known
more for piousness than paganism? After all,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are Bible Belt red
states. Marcavage said there were no innocent
bystanders and that most of the victims of Hurricane Katrina
erred by not standing up to the gay community.

Running this
theory by scientists tends to evoke awkward silence and
chuckles.

“Um,
scientifically, that’s ludicrous,” says Barry
Keim, state climatologist for Louisiana and associate
professor for Louisiana State University. He closely
tracked Katrina and notes that the storm cut such a
wide swath that it did not appear to be targeting any one
segment of the Gulf region—or even the city of
New Orleans itself. Scientists studying the storm have
found no evidence that the storm exhibited signs of
meteorological homophobia, he says.

Furthermore, the
French Quarter—the area most associated with Southern
Decadence and the gay community—suffered less damage
than other parts of the city, Keim notes. “If
God is trying to punish us in some way, he sure blew
it.”